Leaving Equinix

500px-Equinix.svg

It’s been three years to the day since my last post — a side effect of my being completely immersed in my job at Equinix (where I was, until last week, Director of Cloud & IT Services). I’ve been based in Zürich and working ostensibly in London for the past 5 years (having spent the last decade in Europe, and probably a year of it in Silicon Valley), though in reality I’ve spent most of my time on the road — according to TripIt I’ve traveled almost a million kilometres to almost 200 locations, be it to visit partners, customers, attend & present at events, or work with colleagues in other offices, as well as the occasional holiday. Here’s hoping I’ll be able to be more grounded for the coming years (though if the last week is any indication I’m not so sure)!

When non-technical people ask me who Equinix is (Americans often confuse it with Equinox, the gyms — maybe they’ll tie up one day so your treadmill will power the data centres?), I tell them they’re essentially the “landlord of the Internet”. That’s not entirely true — there are a number of carrier-neutral, multi-tenant data center providers in the market — but it’s understandable, and few can hold a candle to Equinix’s quality, scale, global reach, and (arguably most importantly), business ecosystems. Another analogy I use is the “Hilton of the Internet”, where companies wishing to participate can rent a room, meet each other at the “lobby bar” (regional events and Marketplace), and communicate over the “phone system” (Internet exchanges). Chairman Peter Van Camp refers to the data centres (“International Business Exchanges” or “IBXs”) as “international airports where passengers from many different airlines make connections to get to their final destinations”. You get the idea.

As the Internet developed, Equinix founders Jay Adelson and the late Al Avery identified a need for a neutral location for carriers to connect together — the Switzerland of the Internet if you like. Over the 15+ years since it was founded in 1998, Equinix has grown from its first location in the USA to a global footprint of 105 data centres in 33 metros (cities) in 15 countries spanning 5 continents (by the time you read this they may have many more thanks to the acquisition of Telecity which will basically double the size of the EMEA region). The company usually expands through acquisition or by building new data centres, typically following a “metro” model whereby an accessible (but not necessarily central) location is chosen for a “campus” of data centres (London for example now has 6 data centres, half of which are on the same road in Slough). Recent builds look something like these:

AM3Amsterdam AM3

equinix-1-web

Melbourne ME1

Having established a critical mass of network service providers, Equinix IBXs became attractive to early content providers like Yahoo! They needed to reach the eyeballs which were connected to the carriers (at the time, typically by dialup or ADSL services), and rather than tapping into multiple/many carriers in one location they’d have to arrange to connect to those carriers wherever they were. Furthermore, the carriers themselves needed to connect to each other (that’s the “inter” in “internet”), and they found it easier to do so in a neutral location rather than on their own turf.

Equinix went on to establish similar ecosystems around the financial industry, where trading exchanges (like Internet exchanges) would act as magnets for high frequency traders, news providers, etc. — there are now thriving financial hubs in 16 Equinix metros. More recent ecosystems include advertising, whereby a content provider could ask — in the milliseconds it takes to render a page — for advertisers to bid on ad placements. While light travels quickly, over long distances it can significantly impair the performance of an application (plus it travels slower inside glass fibres), and for these applications there’s no prize for second! The most interesting ecosystem though (in my somewhat biased opinion anyway) is the cloud ecosystem. By chance many of the content providers of yesterday (Amazon, Google, Microsoft) transformed into the cloud providers of today, and I think it’s safe to say now that Equinix is the “home of the cloud” (a term I introduced in 2011, albeit somewhat aspirational at the time).

When I joined Equinix the only way to access cloud providers was over the Internet, or by special arrangement (typically only available to the largest customers like Netflix). This was a problem for most enterprise consumers, and indeed 8 of the top 10 blockers for cloud adoption according to analysts are partially or fully addressed by bypassing the Internet. We first launched AWS Direct Connect with Amazon that year, and I proposed that the process should be more automated (at the time it required filling out paperwork and waiting for someone in the data centre to run a fibre from your infrastructure to a port you had to rent in Amazon’s). The solution proposed by product was a box of robots, and while I was no stranger to boxes of robots from my time at Google, I was convinced we could do better. Here’s the back-of-an-envelope blueprint I submitted in my first month in the company, which (following years of research and development by the CTO office and product teams) essentially went on to become the Equinix Cloud Exchange (I called it CloudConnect at the time, but there were trademark issues):

Cloud Exchange

This hybrid- and multi-cloud architecture allows customers to seamlessly integrate legacy/on-premises, hosted private, and public cloud infrastructure, and I believe it (or something like it) will be the “default” reference architecture for most enterprises in future. Anyone can automate a switch fabric though — indeed a number of competitors have (we even had something like it at UNSW ~20 years ago which would allow you to put any port anywhere on campus onto any network, via a web interface, using the same standards no less!). What differentiates Equinix’s is the presence of hundreds of cloud providers, including all of the top providers in the market today (thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of the GAM and CAT teams).

For the enterprise CIO, they should look at the data centre as an operating system, only rather than installing best-of-breed applications like Office and Photoshop, they simply connect to services like Office 365 and AWS (after all, cloud is simply the migration from product to service). Alternatively I often use the shopping mall analogy, only rather than visiting to buy products from a store (like Apple), you’re buying from a service provider (like Apple).

Anyway, having spent the past decade on the provision of services at Citrix, Google, and Equinix, I’m hanging up my Equinix hat and getting to work on the consumption and application of information technology to solving business problems (among other things). Watch this space.

Crystal ball: Data-only carriers to destroy the telco industry RSN

This is one of those random thoughts that fits in a tweet but deserves a little more explanation. Like most I currently pay around €100 a month for a mobile package that includes some texts, airtime (2+2 hours on and off peak), some data and usually some useless gimmicks (free calls at certain times or to certain phones, etc.). This of course makes it truly impossible to compare apples to apples and I almost feel like choosing the right plan should be a profession (I’m sure there must be businesses that do this for a living).

Under the covers though it’s all just 1’s and 0’s and it’s been that way for a while – Australia turned off it’s analog mobile network (AMPS) while I was still there and like here in Europe uses the Global Standard for Mobiles (GSM). This shares the limited airwaves with timeslices (TDMA) and over in the US they do a similar thing with code (CDMA), probably because TDMA has timing problems when you get out to tens of kilometers (irrespective of the strength of the signal) and the US has a lot of land to cover. Point is that under the covers it’s all data. Of course things have changed a bit since I was helping design Australia’s first digital mobile network – now we’ve got 3G, LTE, WiFi, WiMax, etc. to play with too.

Traditional telephony was what we call “circuit switched”, which means it was about creating a dedicated connection between two endpoints. First these were hardwired, then switched manually by operators, then clicks on the line would operate mechanical switches at the exchange, more recently tones (DTMF) would tell chips what to do and nowdays connections are set up out-of-band over data connections. But it all still revolves around circuits, even though these days we’re not tying up a pair of copper for the duration of the call, rather sending as much data as we need to when we need it (silence often uses little or no bandwidth but then we have to simulate background noise at the other end so as not to confuse the human).

That is to say it’s time we stopped thinking about circuits which tend to be billed by time (after all, the resource could not be shared when you were using it) and start thinking about data (which is typically billed by quantity transferred or bandwidth available). In other words we are paying (generally more) for our communications because of technological limitations that have long since been removed. Even Skype go to great lengths to identify which country you are calling from so as to impose the legacy billing system we are used to (so many cents per minute depending on the country) rather than take advantage of what the Internet has to offer in terms of being unaffected by geography.

Then there’s texts which are an even bigger rort. These were basically an afterthought which are sent out-of-band over the relatively limited control channel – the one that’s used to set up calls and so on (that’s why they take a while to send and why you can jam a phone by sending/receiving too many). Knowing that everything is 1’s and 0’s anyway, did you ever stop to think about how many texts a minute of voice is worth (even using strong compression)? It’s a lot but let’s work it out. Full rate GSM consumes 13Kbps or just shy of 100,000 8-bit characters per minute assuming my maths are correct. Each SMS is 140 8-bit (or 160 7-bit) characters or around 700 texts per minute. In Australia those texts cost $0.25 each so we’re paying $175.00 a minute to consume the bandwidth as texts when we’d pay around $0.50 to consume it as voice. You can see why they love them now, can’t you!

The telcos have been on the gravy train for long enough at our expense and it’s long since been time for the next generation of carrier to take over. There’s a massive opportunity here for someone to enter the market with a data-only service and in doing so destroy the existing industry literally overnight. We’ve already got devices (iPhones, Android) that are more than capable of doing everything we need over data, but which are being deliberately crippled by hardware and software vendors in order to protect the legacy carriers. That’s not to say that Apple and Google are to blame for contracts they are almost certainly forced into by the likes of AT&T, but seeing Google taking the high road while having to concede that “individual operators can request that certain applications be filtered if they violate their terms of service” is disappointing.

Why can’t we have Google Voice on the iPhone? Or use Skype over 3G (without jailbreaking and installing 3G Unrestrictor)? Or open source/open standard SIP telephony for that matter? Why are we sending texts when we have instant messaging? Or dialing in to retrieve voicemails that could just as easily be translated and/or emailed? Why are we paying for silence on the line when we should be paying for bandwidth and/or quantity of data? Why do we pay for minutes at all?

The telcos will tell you it’s to protect their networks, and ultimately to protect you, no doubt from the evils of illegal filesharing, terroristing and child pornography. There’s an element of truth to this (it only takes a few greedy customers to ruin it for the rest and as always 10% of the users use 90% of the traffic), ut there are simple, effective solutions for this too. People will pay more for a premium/priority service and at the end of the day you can always reign in abusers with packet shaping. The fairest mechanism I can think of comes in the form of a logarithmic bandwidth policy whereby the more you use the slower you go, but the point is that there are solutions so this is pure FUD. My “unlimited” data connection was just throttled from 3G+ to 3G speeds at 800Mb and again at 1000 Mb (so much for unlimited), but I’d happily pay more for a more “unlimited” service if it meant I could say goodbye to minutes and texts forever.

It will happen – it’s just a case of when (and where first). Australia’s regularly used as a test market and capped ($99 all you can talk) style plans took over by storm a few years ago, so let’s just help an existing innovative carrier like 3 or a new one altogether teach the incumbents a lesson, with any luck by the time I get back there.

Apple iPad to be Steve Jobs’ welcome back gift?

You may recall the Crystal Ball: Apple’s $599 “iPad Touch” Netbook (with pictures) article last year in which I mocked up the forthcoming Apple iPad. Although it turns out I wasn’t the first with this idea (further proof it’s got legs) I wasn’t the last either, with the Wall Street Journal claiming that “people privy to the company’s strategy say Apple is working on new iPhone models and a portable device that is smaller than its current laptop computers but bigger than the iPhone or iPod Touch” in Jobs Maintains Grip at Apple. Add to that the mysterious 10-inch touchscreen order and you arrive at something not too far from what you see above.

When will all this happen? Well Steve Jobs is due back in June, coincidentally the same time as the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) 2009 which runs June 8-12 in San Francisco. In addition to Snow Leopard then it looks like us Mac junkies will have a[t least one] new toy to play with. This is great news even if only because while surfing the Internet on the iPhone is possible, it’s hardly pleasurable.

Crystal Ball: Apple’s $599 “iPad Touch” Netbook (with pictures)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words so how better to illustrate what I think an Apple “netbook” might look like than to design what I’d build if I were them. I’ve affectionately called it the “Apple iPad Touch” – not because it’s a particularly clever name but because it’s close to “iPod” and thus avoids having to create a new “iNote”, “iNet” or similar logo. There’s been renewed discussion (e.g. here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here) about such a device of late thanks to rumours that Chinese manufacturers Wintek and Quanta will make the screens and manufacture the devices respectively, and confirmation by Dow Jones Newswires via “two people close to the situation“.

The device would be bigger than an iPhone but smaller than a MacBook (actually it would be quite similar to the lid/screen of a MacBook on its own) and would be both light and durable. It may come with a protective case to protect its large, glass screen but these would definitely be available optionally and/or from third parties. It would stick with the aluminium/black glass theme, though given the appearance of the high density plastic backing for the iPhone 3G the temptation would be to make multi-coloured and/or special editions available, going back to the iBook clamshell roots.

The interface would be a breeze to use and the multitouch functions would be even more spectacular than when they first appeard on the iPhone. Thanks to advancements in the upcoming Safari 4, navigating to your faviourite sites would be as simple as clicking on a thumbnail in the new coverflow style speed dialer and the browsing experience will be similar to, but thanks to the extra power and pixels, much better than that of the iPhone. Multimedia (including video) will also be a pleasure to watch on its large high definition screen (but you’ll have to keep an eye on the battery) and finding what you want will be trivial thanks to CoverFlow:

Here’s the suggested specs:

  • ARM processor (1Ghz+)
  • 256-512Mb RAM
  • 32-64 Gb flash drive (ala iPhone, primarily for audio & video media)
  • iPhone-style stripped back Mac OS X operating system
  • 9-10″ Widescreen HD ~800×400 multi-touch screen (with LED backlighting)
  • Built-in microphone, speakers and webcam.
  • Battery replacement program (for a clean, catch free finish)
  • WiFi connectivity (802.11 b/g/n)
  • WiMax connectivity (maybe saved for 2nd gen release, 802.16e-2005?)
  • 3G service (potentially with carrier contract)

While it would have been nice to break the psychological barriers given the current economic climate by hitting the $499 price point, price at launch would be around $599.00/€499.00/£449.00, and while unlocked iPhone 3G’s sell around that today (in Australia they’re apparently around USD550), supply with or without a 3G carrier contract may affect the price.

Connectivity is key so it will support at least WiFi, but for “always connected” service 3G may be required. WiMax may also be an option in some regions to provide connectivity while side-stepping the mobile networks. Given good connectivity the iPhone’s dialer functionality may make an appearance too, but rather than holding the thing up to your head you’d have to go for a bluetooth headset, and similarly if you were bored with the onscreen keyboard then a bluetooth Apple Wireless Keyboard would be your only option. The charging cradle would sport the traditional iPod connector and a slot with a photo-frame style appendage for holding the device at an adjustable angle, facilitating the use of the keyboard and making the device a pleasure to use on the road (e.g. on trains/planes).

Although full-blown Mac OS X is pictured above, in reality a significantly reduced feature set would be available via an iPhone, Front Row and/or Cover Flow style interface running on something akin to Snow Leopard. This would be the main thing preventing cannibalisation of MacBook sales – the included AppStore wouldn’t include mainstream apps like iWork and Microsoft Office. Basic functionality would be provided via a suite of cloud computing tools like iWork.com but the absence of a keyboard would be another limiting factor. Similarly a lot of the media management would depend on a more traditional device (like the iPhone and Apple TV), but that doesn’t really matter since most of the content would be accessed over the Internet (at least when a high speed connection is available). Make no mistake – being a “netbook” this will largely be a single-purpose device, for watching YouTube videos, interacting with friends on Facebook, reading news feeds and so on. Nobody said netbooks had to be small or cheap but instant-on, constant connectivity is a must.

I for one would line up for this device (well, I’d submit an online order anyway) and if I were Steve Jobs I’d make its release my “I’m Back!” message.

Update: There’s evidence of new devices in the iPhone 3.0 OS images including the iProd and iFPGA. The iProd is likely a personal trainer device, though my initial reaction was a touch interface ala the tablet above. The iFPGA on the other hand is certainly referring to a different type of chip than the usual ASICs that can be programmed at the hardware level to function differently – this could well be a new architecture for the new devices.

2010 Update: With the announcement scheduled for tomorrow I thought I’d update this post to refine my predictions based on what we’ve discovered in the interim (it’s getting harder and harder for Apple to run a tight ship with secret product development – thanks to patent and trademark leaks, suppliers, and just plain old guesswork).

  • The device will be like a blown up iPhone and most importantly will run the iPhone OS (a derivative of OS X) rather than some skinned version of Snow Leopard.
  • It may be smaller than anticipated, but it will have a high quality screen like that of the Nexus One – possibly 7″ @ 1280×720 (for HD video content).
  • It will cost ~€499 in Europe with a mobile contract like T-Mobile’s Complete L (€899 without), and that contract may well include voice, text, etc. in addition to data. Contrast to the Amazon Kindle which provides free albeit limited service for store purchases, subscriptions and soon, 3rd party applications.
  • It won’t be immediately available, rather it will ship February/March (possibly March 1st).
  • Not much will be said about the specifications (as is the case for iPhone) but they will be quickly discovered and likely in line with what I suggested above – except perhaps for a bump in solid state storage for video.
  • Apple tend not to mix messages so there will be a lot of focus on specific use cases. Figuring this to be young/middle-aged professionals with discretionary spending even in a tough economic environment I’m thinking education and entertainment. Books. Magazines. Newspapers. Games. Movies. Music.
  • Expect a lot of the content to be subscription based, though given 3G is the weak link for delivery of HD video the focus will likely more be on newspapers et al (which are relatively cheap to deliver while still offering significant value)
  • The interface will want to be sexy – think photorealistic page turns and [enhanced?] coverflow based browsing.

Apple WWDC Predictions

So it’s Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) today in San Francisco and Steve Jobs will certainly have some new goodies for us Mac junkies, likely:

  • iPhone 2.0
    • Immediately available, probably worldwide, perhaps with new partnerships, probably cheaper again (who ever said being an Apple early adopter wasn’t without its costs?)
    • New toys including 3G, GPS, probably something unexpected
    • Support for native applications via the (excellent) SDK – I was already building these on the first day it was released and it’s already improved significantly with handful of updates
    • App Store in iTunes which means iTunes version bump (and like music et al takes a solid 30% cut on sales)
  • Software Updates
    • iTunes for iPhone stuff
    • OS X 10.6 seeding, but OS X is already pretty good so not holding my breath… maybe some more connection to the cloud including:
  • .Mac Rethink
  • Hardware
    • Nothing that will detract from the iPhone announcement… maybe some refreshes here and there

Anyway we’ll see soon enough.

Update: was pretty much on the money.